Instrument Cluster Evolution Will be Paved by Safety Considerations

Author: Yi Zheng

Date: Dec 17, 2018

For a driver, apart from the visibility provided via the front windshield and mirrors, the instrument cluster provides critical information to operate the vehicle safely. Instrument clusters display performance information - through the Speedometer and the Tachometer, for example - and keep drivers safe by displaying telltale symbols and warnings, such as Brake System, Check Engine Light, and Air Bags.

More recently, instrument clusters have evolved from analog versions that had mechanical dials and gauges to fully digital clusters which have rich graphical renderings of the same dials in digital form. By 2021, over 82% of vehicles will be deployed with hybrid instrument clusters, and the rest are expected to be fully digital. Digital instrument clusters enable automakers to differentiate their products by offering their customers an infinite choice of customized looks, moods, themes and even animation. In addition, fully digital instrument clusters are fundamental to consolidated cockpit domain controllers. These domain controllers integrate instrument clusters with infotainment units on a single SoC, offering the consumer a seamless experience of their critical cluster information along with their infotainment options.

The challenge for automakers and Tier 1 integrators in creating fully digital instrument clusters is largely that the mobile market has raised the bar for compelling user interfaces (UI) among consumers, who have come to expect similar experiences from other UIs or Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), including the instrument cluster they see in the cockpit of the car.  Modern clusters can show video from the rear-view camera while the vehicle is in reverse gear, or media information received from the infotainment system for the song track that is currently playing. The instrument cluster must be able to manage information from various sources and display this information seamlessly in a coherent manner.

From a technical standpoint, fast boot time is another challenge. In traditional instrument clusters, illuminating a symbol involves powering on an LED light. In modern clusters, the symbols must be rendered onto the screen, a process that involves layers of software working together on top of hardware dedicated to graphics. This process is much more complex than turning on an LED. Usually the requirement for boot time is 2 seconds, which emphasizes the need for a solution with real-time capabilities.

Finally, functional safety is always a vital consideration for automakers. In traditional instrument clusters, critical information such as telltale symbols are illuminated by safety-grade LEDs but in full digital instrument clusters, this information must be rendered by software. The rising importance of software in cars extends well beyond instrument clusters into many vehicle subsystems. Recognizing this reality, the industry has embraced the ISO 26262 functional safety standard to bring assurance to in-vehicle electronic systems. Today, ISO 26262 ASIL B requirements are being applied to indicators, signals and gear positions in digital instrument clusters. Meeting these requirements could significantly increase the scope, cost, and duration of an instrument cluster production program. To secure customer satisfaction, automakers and their suppliers must meet all these new challenges while minimizing cost.

It is with these challenges in mind that BlackBerry QNX created the QNX Platform for Instrument Clusters. The BlackBerry QNX solution includes an ISO 26262 ASIL D pre-certified real-time operating system that serves as a solid foundation for vehicle systems with ASIL requirements. In order to render critical telltale symbols using software, BlackBerry QNX has an ISO 26262 ASIL B pre-certified graphics framework, which gives ASIL B level assurance that a critical symbol is being displayed as expected.

Version 2.0 of the QNX Platform for Instrument Clusters delivers significant enhancements over version 1.0, which was released in 2017. There is no longer a limit to the number of symbols you can check for correct rendering on the cluster.  Cluster developers can now specify the configuration of graphical checking areas anywhere in the cluster application, instead of providing the specifications in a text file prior to compilation. Developers are also given the capability to check the correctness of irregular shapes, as well as safety critical symbols overlaid on a background. Version 2.0 has the capability to check for correct rendering of animated sequences, defined as a series of images on the same area on the display that go through fast transition to represent an animation, such as an animation that shows a door closing. Version 2.0 delivers a solid foundation for instrument clusters that can be built on QNX’s latest software platform, SDP 7.0.

BlackBerry QNX understands the time and cost of taking a product through certification. Using pre-certified software components reduces risk of product failure, time to market and hence cost. According to a study of a group of products that tried to obtain safety certification, the average success rate is 40%. Leveraging solutions that are pre-certified and working with suppliers that are experienced in designing such safety-critical solutions, can provide OEMs and Tier 1s with a significant advantage in the competitive auto marketplace.

QNX Platform for Instrument Clusters 2.0 is now available for enabling innovative instrument cluster projects as of December 2018.